Azis | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Bulgarian pop star Azis is an excellent student of the likes of Michael Jackson and Madonna, but his own brand of calculated outrageousness leaves theirs in the dust. Born and raised in Sliven, a city in the heart of the country with a large Rom population, Azis started out as a standard-issue singer of chalga, a Bulgarian pop form. He has a sublime voice--a vibrato-rich falsetto, flawless pitch control, and a high, keening tone--but he failed to score hits until he transformed himself into one of the most arresting transvestites ever to grace a stage. He's outfitted himself in heels, boas, and colorful saris, bleached his hair platinum blond, and waxed his body, but his shtick goes even further. In his outlandish videos he constantly toys with his sexuality, getting affectionate with beefy bodybuilders, scantily clad centerfolds, and people of indeterminate gender with bulging muscles and bad makeup; one scandalous video featured several black men licking milk off his body. On a live DVD I've seen, his singing is overshadowed by the dance performances, and some of his songs are the worst sort of Eurotrash pop--overwrought ballads featuring production tricks that were passe here a decade ago. But his best stuff, particularly the 2003 album Na Golo (Sunny Music), is a stunning synthesis of Gypsy singing, eastern European folk forms, Arabic pop, and Indian bhangra. (Bollywood is clearly a major inspiration.) This is his U.S. debut. a 8 PM, Hanging Gardens Banquets, 8301 W. Belmont, River Grove, 866-386-4586, $50-$100.

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